Cloudland Cabin Cam, February 28, 7:25am - first light and beautiful colors

Journal updated Monday morning the 25th


Print Of The Week - #9 - First Light On The River

02/01/13 I got up around 3 this morning, left my frigid campsite along a creek north of Payson, and motored my way towards Sedona. It was 24 degrees outside (the ground crunched as I took a short morning hike), with a sky filled with zillions of stars and a bright half moon. I'm just making a quick visit to the Sedona area, never been here before, but managed to stumble onto a really nice short and easy hiking trail that goes up into a beautiful redrock canyon just outside of town (Fay Canyon Trail). I only meant to do a quick hike to stretch my legs, but was gone for a couple of hours. I'm sure there are lots of great trails around here, but I highly recommend this one if you can only hike for a short while - and be sure to do it early or late in the day (midday light is usually harsh).


As I'm sitting here at the trailhead typing this up (the only trailhead I could find in the area that did not charge a fee to park), there is a steady stream of folks stopping and taking pictures - you can see the walls of the canyon from the parking area. A trend I'm seeing lately is folks using iPads for cameras. I laughed the first time I saw someone pull one of these out of a daypack to take a snapshot, but now I understand - your "viewfinder" is HUGE!

I took my own snapshot camera with me up into the canyon this morning and took quite a few pictures, but I don't trust a laptop screen for processing so I may not post any of them just yet - the rocks in my pictures are not nearly as RED as those that are right outside my window that I can see with my own eyes!


I'm headed back into town to do a bit of research and study, and then I'm onto the local forest service office to purchase a new "Federal Lands Pass" (if you buy this at the beginning of a month you get 13 months of use out of it!). Tonight I have my eye on another forest service campground along a creek where I saw a few neat trees I want to explore, although I'm kind on a "ramble" right now and never really know quite where I am going to end up. I begin a new week of class back in Scottsdale on Monday.

02/02/13 Night has fallen in the desert, the stars are coming out, and the temp is falling rapidly (I was hiking in shorts just an hour ago - the warmest day of the trip so far). I spent a couple of hours on a trail nearby this evening trying to find a good composition for a photo I wanted to take tonight, but I did not find anything to my liking, so I may go out and wander among the tall cactus in starlight, or I may just stay at camp and gaze up like everyone else. Some of the cactus along the trail are more than 20 feet tall - I had no idea they grew that big! And when they are backlit as the sun gets low on the horizon, they really light up.



I spent yesterday evening, night, and this morning wandering around underneath towering sycamore trees that surround a remote forest service campground (Clear Creek Campground) - other than the camp host, I was the only one at the campground. There are many thousands of sycamore trees in this part of Arizona lining any creeks they can find. I have always loved them in Arkansas, and they are especially beautiful out here right now since they have no clothes on.

I had actually left the campground about 6 this morning and was already out on the highway when I saw a hint of color in the eastern sky and had a thought - TURN AROUND and go take pictures of sycamores you dummy! And so I did. At one point it appeared that the brilliant red rocks around Sedona had vaporized and become the sky this morning - the colors were so vivid. I wonder which came first - the sky or the red rocks?

A funny thing happened a little while later - the temp was in the upper 20s, and I had to swat a mosquito! In fact three of them. Tough bugs out here.

Later in the day I was looking up and admiring more trees along another creek. And instead of a camera, I got out my sketch pad, and sat down in the warm afternoon sunshine and rubbed a bit of carbon on some cotton rag paper. There were bluffs, a flowing creek, and a gravel bar made of colorful polished stones. Son of a gun, it looked just like the BUFFALO RIVER!

Tonight will be my last one out in the country - I have a campsite right in the middle of town the rest of my time here. Then I will make a mad dash to get back home ASAP - Arizona is quite a beautiful place, but nothing beats Arkansas, and I especially love it in the winter!

LATE NIGHT UPDATE. It was so warm that I decided to go take a stroll before bedtime, and I ended up about a half mile away, up the hillside, in a forest of giant saguaro cactus. I just happened to have my camera and tripod with me, so what the heck, I set it all up and took a few pictures. The sky was not completely clear, but there were a few stars out. There was an odd mix of light happening, and since it was changing all the time, each exposure was completely different and unpredictable. The entire hillside was lit up a little bit by the glowing horizon behind me from sunset. Then there were cars and trucks zooming by on a highway about a half mile away. What was weird was that sometimes a few of the cactus would be lit up when there was no car on the highway at all - at least not that I could see. And then a car would eventually arrive, but the light on the cactus would then go away, only to reappear on a different part of the hillside. It was as if the cactus were having a big party and the headlights were strobe lights! The clouds above were also lit up a little bit by the glowing horizon, and they were moving just a little bit so were blurred during my 30-second exposures. There was enough ambient light that I could kind of see all around me, but I had to be very careful as the hillside was covered with thousands of cactus - at least three or four different types - and I knew they would have loved to jump out and get me! I ended up getting some unusual photos - all thanks to the passing cars.




02/12/13 We've had some heavy snowfall off and on this afternoon, and now as the light fades and darkness creeps into the landscape, the air is filled with quarter-to-half-dollar-sized snowflakes, you know, the kind that you can see from a long ways off. Lucy and I were out going from warehouse to gallery once this afternoon when I just stopped to listen to the snow. Normal snow is pretty hard to hear, but every now and then - if you pay really close attention - you can hear snow hitting the ground. But today, those giant wet flakes landed with a SPLAT or a thud! The earth was so warm that the flakes melted on impact, some probably even before landing. But as we move into nightfall and the temps drop, the floor of the forest may turn lighter, white perhaps, by dawn.

Speaking of dawn, my lovely bride alerted me to some color beginning appear on the eastern horizon early this morning. I took note, but continued working on whatever I was doing, and kept a watchful eye out for spreading color. About ten minutes later the sky was on fire, and I grabbed my camera and tripod and ran out the door. I LOVE naked trees at dawn! And today layers of clouds behind them were brilliant shades of red and orange, while the sky behind the clouds blended from purple to blue. Any spectacle of beautiful light wonderful, but it felt so great to be back home after being gone so long (in fact, my trip to Arizona was the longest I'd been away from home since 1995 - before then I frequently would be gone for months at a time, out west taking pictures or doing trail work mostly. So I got a few nice pre-dawn images from the front yard this morning, fully an hour before the sun arrived.


Speaking of my trip out west, I spent the second week of it in class with another amazing painter and equally talented teacher - in fact John Poon has been teaching painting for a very long time - first teaching art at a university in California, and since those days teaching many hundreds of students via his workshops and classes like this one. I almost had to laugh as we went around the room that first morning last week with introductions - every single student had at the very least an art degree of some sort from college, and most had painted for years, some for decades. And then there was me, ha, ha! While all the others were rather advanced painters to begin with, John was teaching quite a lot of fundamentals, which was wonderful, and was the reason why I was there.

One of the highlights of the class for me was one afternoon towards the end of the day, as harsh desert light began to shift slowly into evening, and the magical light that comes with it. We all had been painting along the Salt River, looking across rushing blue waters at the towering and majestic "Eagle Cliffs" beyond. Our teacher came by to see if I needed any help. Just about that time is when the light really started to get dramatic. There was one other guy down next to the creek with me (he was probably the best of the best in this class, from New Jersey). Anyway, the light was like a powerful force that drew you in, increasing in intensity with each passing moment. And it was not just the cliffs - but the river was glowing, the rocks along the river, and even dried bushes, tall grass, and trees were illuminated with this incredible light. I looked up and realized that we were the only three people there - John said all the other students had LEFT (John's son was there also, so four people). No way to capture such fast-moving light with paint, so John and I kicked into photographer mode and started to run around like crazy taking pictures. I thought at the time this was one of the most amazing moments I'd ever experienced in the outdoors - WOW, that light was beautiful! And everyone else had missed it. I may never become a great technical painter, but I know one thing - I will continue to chase and capture light like this - first with my camera - and then hopefully with a brush. That magical light has always attracted me, and it will always bring me back to the wilderness. DOUBLE WOW! (By the way, none of the photos I took even came close to the look and feel of the real thing we experienced that evening on the river - sometimes it just happens like that.)

OK, back to realtime, and it is after dark, and I just went next door to get something done over in the gallery and SURPRISE - not only was the ground completely covered with snow, but there was at least an inch on the ground with heavy, giant, wet snow coming down - YIPPIE COYOTE! I suspect most of it will melt quickly, but nice to know it is coming down, and even nicer to go out and wander around in it just a little bit. I think I have something else in the other building to do tonight, and I just might get lost for a little while - isn't that what snow is for?

02/14/13 There were times the other night when the snow was coming down so heavy and wet that I could hardly even look UP without having to shield my eyes. I could tell the snow was beginning to stick to tree branches, which is a good thing when you are a photographer. The only problem was that the temps were warm enough that there might not be much snow left by daylight. I wandered back into the cabin and dozed off with visions of snowy landscapes in my head.

I was up and out the door early yesterday morning, and son of a gun, not only was the ground still covered with that wet snow, but there was at least three inches on the ground, YIPPIE! And oh my goodness, the trees were in that perfect state of having as much or more snow clinging to them than the size of the branches themselves. YIPPIE COYOTE! But, we realized the snowline was just below the cabin elevation, which meant the creeks and rivers did not have any snow, so I would have to remain above the bluffline if I wanted any good snow pictures.

I had to fight through a tunnel of low-hanging branches and small trees that were all totally covered with that wet snow as I made my way on over towards Hawksbill Crag. When I arrived I found the trees around the Crag nice and snowy, but the rock itself was void of any snow - it was just too warm for anything to stick on it. No matter, the scene was wonderful and I was anxious to take some pictures.


I spent the next hour working my way along the tall bluffline in search of compositions, waiting for some good light to change the monotone overcast skies - which I always love, but wanted something really dramatic for this snow scene. Some places in the deep woods had more than three inches of snow, while others just had an inch or two.

One funny thing that kept happening. You should ALWAYS carry a spare camera battery with you into the woods if you are a serious nature photographer. And so when my battery died I reached into the camera bag to find - yup, the spare battery was right there was it was supposed to be so I was back in business. But just like when you stop to change a flat tire and discover that your spare is also flat, my backup battery was almost completely dead! And of course all of this happened just as sunshine began to filter through the thick clouds above. I did have two cameras with me so was able to keep right on shooting with the other camera, but I also wanted to make sure I got some good images with the original camera as well.

So here is what I did. I kept the spare battery in my pants pocket to keep it warm, and then when I REALLY needed to take a picture with that camera I would get out the warm battery and rub it between my hands, and breathe on it heavily - just like when you are trying to warm up frozen hands. Then I would quickly put the battery in the camera - this allowed me to take three or four pictures before the battery "died" again. Then I would repeat the process with the alternate battery. I find that you can often "breathe" a few extra pictures out of a dead battery, especially if it is cold outside (cold temps kill batteries quickly).

Anyway, while there were many interesting compositions and some really nice light during my hour on top of the bluff that I got pictures of, there were two moments where everything came together and the magic happened - a terrific scene and magical light. When those moments came I was prepared with not only my big camera (which had fresh batteries!), and also my little point-and-shoot camera (with the dead batteries).

The first such moment was at a location that I normally don't shoot at, but I really liked it because there were several small trees in the foreground that were covered with snow - the reason I was there in the first place. But the first two times I shot at this particular location yesterday, the light was nothing special. But when I returned to that spot the third time, the sky began to open up and I was able to capture some of that magical light. YIPPIE COYOTE!

And then all heck broke loose. The temps got up to just the right temperature, and all the heavy snow on the branches began to melt just a little bit and break loose from the branches - it was SNOWING big clumps of SNOW! And a lot of it fell right down on top of my and my camera equipment.

So I moved back to my original photo location - my standard spot that had the Crag right up front. More great light was happening, and I was able to be there to capture it. But this time I set up an umbrella over the camera and tripod - the big clumps of snow were coming down to big that it would have been impossible to continue to take pictures without the umbrella. I carry this setup with me wherever I go - you never know when clumps of wet snow are going to attack!

While the Crag and bluffline area were pretty darn nice even without any special light, the fact that I was able to wait around long enough for the magic light to happen made all the difference, and I think I got one or two of my best photos of this scenic icon ever. Oh yes, and I got completely soaked on the hike back out to our cabin - it was literally raining heavy clumps of wet snow, ha, ha! And within another 30 minutes the snow in the trees had all fallen. And soon most of the snow on the ground had melted as well, and the temps were pretty warm. Just another typical winter snowstorm in the Ozarks!



I'm taking my lovely bride on an all-day date today, and while I'm hoping she will enjoy our destination, I personally will be thrilled with being able to spend the entire day with her! Being with her is kind of like waiting around for that very special magical light...HAPPY HEARTS DAY TO EVERYONE!

02/15/13 It is so bright outside tonight that not only are there moon shadows of trees (thanks Cat baby), but the forest floor is glowing! How can this be - the moon is barely 1/3 full, and just a day or two past crescent? The clarity of the air is pretty high, and the temp is crisp - feels great to take deep breaths. But glowing brown leaves?

We made a quick trip to see a great art exhibit at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa yesterday (not real quick though - 8 hours of driving). There were 100 large paintings by one of the masters, Edgar Payne - they just went on and on and on - some really nice stuff. But it was a single painting by Thomas Moran (of Tetons fame) that stopped me in my tracks - it was six feet tall and eleven feet wide, and filled with detail, and motion, and color, and incredible LIGHT! One of the top two or three paintings I'd ever seen in my life. Wowwww.

I spent much of today outside working on building a stand-up desk to use in the print room. I've been using a makeshift standup desk at my main computer station in the gallery now for a month and really like it. There is no chair, and you literally stand up to work. I used to get really lazy and lean back in my office chair and put my feet up on the desk - terrible posture! (plus sometimes I would go to sleep and nearly fall out of the chair). So I'm hoping this new setup will encourage better health and more productivity. I spend on average 10-12 hours a day sitting at my desk (sometimes more), seven days a week.

Lucy and I took a brisk hike out to the mailbox and back this afternoon. Bright and sunny with pure-blue skies and puffy white clouds floating by. There was a brisk wind, and I had to push myself pretty hard to keep warm - the wind chill was pretty low. But sunshine in your face always helps keep warm.

Speaking of warm, we have installed insulating curtains at the cabin - the first curtains we've ever had here. We have a lot of windows in the cabin, and while they are special gas-filled, double-pane glass, I'm sure there is a lot of heat exchange, especially on cold winter nights. But now a lot of that is being stopped by the curtains. My job early in the morning is to go around and open them all up so we can see the dawn of each new day.

It is late tonight and I just stepped outside to see how the setting moon was coming along. The air is filled with beautiful music from the river far below - SO NICE to hear this music again after it being silent for so long. The earth is gradually soaking up more and more moisture and getting back to a full sponge where it should be - of course, that means lots and lots of WATERFALLS to seek and enjoy! Keep those rain dances coming...


02/21/13 How WEIRD - ice and lightning! That's what was happening when I crawled out of bed and walked over to the gallery at 4-something this morning. Each time I went back and forth to the cabin the ground was covered with more ice and the skies above were louder and brighter - lots and lots of lightning. It was exactly like Garret said it would be! Fortunately - at least for here at the moment - the ice built up on the ground and not in the trees, and so far we don't have any ice issues other than walking - going through the forest instead of on the road helps since you can dig into the icy leaves and get traction - I find a forest route is always better than a road any day anyway!

Yesterday morning we woke up early and took a stroll down the creek - or rather the river. We were camped about 30 feet from the Little Red River over near Heber Springs. We'd driven over the day before and were doing several things, including campground research for the new guidebook. I really shouldn't be surprised, but we almost always find the campgrounds empty at this time of the year. Hum, could it be the cool weather? Winter is a GREAT time to go camping in Arkansas!

After having a peek at the local weather radar, we decided to high-tail it back home ASAP as the radar showed approaching ice and snow at Cloudland. Three hours later we arrived back at the cabin just as the first snowflakes started to fall. And oh my goodness did they ever come down! Within about 20 minutes the ground was solid white - the snowflakes were of the GIANT variety, although unlike the big ones a week or two ago, these were very dry flakes. But the ground was so wet that as soon as the heavy stuff stopped, the ground immediately began to melt and within an hour it was back to normal color with no snow. The ice that showed on the radar never made it to the ground and all the roads were fine - we probably should have stayed on our campground hunt instead of getting home, but as always, it was good to be back at the cabin anyway.

It is full daylight here now today and I don't see any ice in the trees at all, just on the ground. We're hopeful that the power stays on, but if not we can move into the van and continue to work - the only thing we can't do out there is print postage labels (I'm too lazy to haul out the big printer - perhaps we should get a smaller one for van use? In fact we probably will do that one of these days for future use - when we are on the road for many days at a time it would help if we could print labels and mail books out instead of having to wait until we got back home. Our "bookmobile" van is proving invaluable more and more all the time as a business tool - and also as an emergency lifeboat if needed.

We had a Cloudland Moment of sorts the other day. Pam's dad had built her a bluebird house for Christmas - very nice and sturdy. Literally within hours of me putting it up in the yard, my lovely bride and I were in the cabin looking out the window at the new box when all of a sudden a bright blue ball of feathers swooped down and landed on the front door of the new house. He stood there for the longest time with his head inside, inspecting what we hope will become his bride's maternity ward. To date we've never had any bluebirds use the many bluebird houses we have had scattered around the property - however they have used the martin house down in Mom's meadow below the cabin for years.

Hope everyone is safe and toasty today.

02/22/13 A couple of color notes from the outdoors this morning. First, last night, while I was going back and forth between the gallery and the cabin (I work a lot at night over there), at one point the overcast sky started to break up a bit, which allowed a bright moon to show through. I noticed this first not in the sky, but on the ground. As I moved slowly through the darkness the forest floor around me started to glow, and glow, and GLOW! I realized the ground was mostly ice-covered, and it started to glow because moonlight was shining through the clouds. It was one of the most surreal sights I'd ever seen in the woods - it was sort of a blue-gold-silver kind of glow - beautiful, and WEIRD at the same time!

When I looked up and saw the moon and surrounding ring of red, I ran back into the gallery and got my camera gear. I spent the next 20 minutes looking skyward, and taking pictures of a moon that was playing tag with me. There was still mostly a heavy cloud cover that obscured the moon, but sometimes the clouds would get thinner and an opening would race across in front of the moon. I did a series of 10-30 second exposures, and each one created a different moonlight and ring effect. The wind was blowing so most of the trees never got tack-sharp in any of the photos, but that kind of adds to the surrealness of the moment (if that's a word).


Early this morning while I was at the cabin computer working away I noticed a bit of color in the sky, so stepped outside with my camera in hand to see what was going on. I had already taken the lens cap off of my camera, which is attached to the lens barrel via an elastic band so I don't loose my lens caps. With my third step onto the deck I hit solid and VERY slick ice, my feet slipped out from under me, and luckily I was able to grab the deck railing to keep from falling flat. My camera went flying towards the wilderness, but luckily I had a firm grip on it - I'm an odd duck in that I'm able to keep a hold of my camera while still grasping for life to grip the hand rail. But the force of that was so great that the elastic band holding the lens cap to the lens popped off and my lens cap took a leap over the railing - and landed about 20 feet down the slope (where it remains - I'll go get it once the ice melts). Anyway, there were some really neat and colorful streaks of light across the sky near the horizon, and the landscape below was a series of blue ridges with thin icy edges - the subject of today's deck cam photos. Hope you enjoy both of these pictures!


02/25/13 As I drove along the top of the ridgeline early yesterday morning before dawn, I got to looking at the horizon - two of them in fact, east and west that I had clear views of at the same time. Beginning at the far ridgetop I could see miles away to the east, the sky was pink and rose, graduating into bright blues and then darker blues. This was the moment just before the last stars disappeared, and the sky directly above was a dark blue, and clear with no clouds. Dropping down towards the western horizon the sky went from that dark blue into more roses and pinks, but then back to blue again before disappearing into the ridgeline miles to the west - just the opposite of the eastern horizon. I just love sky colors before dawn.

I got to spend a couple of hours with my lovely bride wandering around along the forested banks of the Buffalo River during the day, looking at reflections, and rocks, and trees. AND the incredible color of the water! The only two colors I've come up with to describe the water here are turquoise or emerald, but I don't know what the official colors are, if there are any. When the greens of spring and summer take hold soon those colors will change since they will be based on their relationships with the surrounding foliage color. But I really enjoy the pure colors of winter pools that are unfiltered by all the rest of the light and colors around them. Pam kept trying to see fish - the fever is beginning to emerge within her already. I used to spend so much of my youth and young adulthood with rod and line in hand stalking them myself, and it is great to see that same enthusiasm kindled in her.

Later on we hiked to a location where we found this amazing giant beech tree that was glowing in the warm late afternoon sunshine - beeches usually keep their leaves during the winter just so they can give off a golden glow in the middle of winter to warm the souls of folks who visit. Its branches spread out and reached around other nearby trees, some of those smaller beeches were glowing too. There were meadows and mountains that spread off miles into the distance. It was a scene that kind of instantly grabbed me and snapped into focus inside my head. We milled around the area for a little bit, but I kept coming back to this tree and that scene.

It was this scene I was headed to the next morning when I studied the color of the horizons. When I reached the big beech right at dawn the distant meadows and mountains gradually lit up with brilliant sunshine, but immediate tree area remained in the shadow of a tall hill for the next hour or two. I hung around and took visual notes as the light and shapes and personalities changed, and waited for the tree to be all lit up.

While wandering around and waiting for the sun I found a creek with a long single ripple that led away from me to the other side of the creek. I could see another composition in my head of light and color and shapes that were advancing with the movement of the approaching sun. I ran back to my car and grabbed my camera bag and tripod, then spent the next frantic few minutes taking pictures of the ripple - sunshine had not hit it yet, and I wanted to capture the moments and the feeling just before it did. Those moments are now recorded as the new Print Of The Week.

Back to the big old beech. When sunshine finally arrived, the great beauty and magic of those first rays of the day had already disappeared from the light, and the scene was kind of ordinary instead of being extraordinary like I had hoped. Evening light would be much better for this particular scene, the way it falls on the distant landscape, and the way it encompasses the big old beech and outlines it power and grace. I suspect I will return to this spot a few times in the coming weeks and months and perhaps years, and hope one day to be able to capture all that it has to offer. It's all about the LIGHT baby, no matter if it is a photograph or a painting!

It is early Monday morning here now - 4 something - and the full moon is big and bright and really lighting up the nighttime forest. Seems warmer outside than it has been lately, and I think I'll go wake up Lucy and see what we can find out there in the woods - we've still got a month or two left for night hiking before snakes wake up, and hiking in moonlight is always such a treat. I hope your Monday and your entire week will be as lovely as the little hike I'm about to take!

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